Patience was the name of the game for Pavel Zakharov during the 2019-20 campaign, and it may have to be again this season despite the early departure of Filip Petrusev.
As a true freshman Zakharov appeared in 19 games, providing some rotation minutes at the beginning of the year while Killian Tillie rehabbed from offseason knee surgery. As the season progressed, however, Zakharov was unsurprisingly relegated to mop-up duty despite the season-ending injury to Anton Watson and Tillie’s ongoing “load management.”
Mark Few’s preference to occasionally drop Corey Kispert into the “4” spot, when the frontcourt was a little thin, rather than expand Zakharov’s role indicated where the Russian center was in his development journey and the level of trust he had yet to earn from the coaching staff. And that’s okay. It’s unusual, and unfair, to expect every freshman to bust their way into a key part of the rotation, especially on a team that always seems to be loaded at his position.
Hopefully Zakharov was not discouraged, because in his limited time on the floor he showed he is good enough to play at Gonzaga. There is a lot to like about his skillset, and it is easy to see his fit in the Gonzaga system. He simply needs to get stronger and grow more comfortable executing the scheme at both ends of the floor.
I expect Zakharov made some gains over the summer which will result in him seeing the floor more this season as he and Oumar Ballo jockey for position in Few’s tight rotation, but his greatest impact may still be in the next two years despite the anticipated arrival of more high-level talent that will bolster the frontcourt (always the case at Gonzaga).
Of course, we cold always be in for a surprise as Zakharov could stake his claim as the first big off the bench. His path to more minutes could be at the defensive end if he can provide some much needed rim protection, an area of weakness for the Zags last year after the loss of Brandon Clarke. Zakharov cannot approximate Clarke’s defensive ability (no one can), but adding length in the post at the defensive end would be welcome since the Zags are giving some of that up with the projected starting lineup.
We will find out soon enough how Few decides to deploy his rotation.